2007. It's been five years, but for a lot of State fans, it feels like 30. Sure we have longer current losing streaks to LSU and other opponents, but the Auburn one seems to sting a bit more. Losses year in and year out to the LSU's and Alabama's of college football aren't as devastating, considering their dominance not only on the SEC level but nationally as well. There's just something about that yearly Auburn game, and recently the yearly Auburn loss, that brings a bit more pain in the gut each September.
2008 - Auburn 3, State 2
In one of the ugliest games I along with the majority of the country have ever witnessed, Auburn and State basically pillow fought for 2 hours until they looked up and hey the game was over. I mean, if not for the presence of alcohol that game would have been completely unbearable for everyone in that stadium. It was horrible. Even for a program like us at State where offenses have never set NCAA records, it was excruciating to view. And to rub salt in the wound, we were on the LOSING end of that game. It did do its part to help us remove a coach that needed to go at the time, but still is a marred memory in most maroon and white minds.
2009 - Auburn 49, State 24
Without a doubt the least painful of the four, this game was never even as close as the score minimally indicates. State was in the midst of change, and often with change comes growing pains. We experienced a number of them in that season, and still where probably a few plays away from a bowl game in Dan Mullen's first year. There was no doubt that Auburn was the more talented team on the field that day, and they emerged victorious, much as they should have.
2010 - Auburn 17, State 14
This one hurt, don't get me wrong, but it feels like it hurt more in hindsight after how the season went for Auburn than it did immediately upon conclusion of the game. State would go on to win 9 games and demolish Michigan in the Gator Bowl, capping our best season in numerous years. Auburn? A National title, won, championed, and led front and center by a man who we all thought would wear maroon: Cam Newton. Yes it was a painful loss at the time because of Newton, but the way Auburn finished the season made the game hurt more. Newton, more than just Cameron the individual, personified for State fans what we feel has been our history: close, but not quite. We almost got Cam, but we didn't. We almost won the game, but fell short. And although we enjoyed a New Year's Day bowl that year, Auburn enjoyed a BCS title, powered by the man we all thought was ours. It hurt, considering we were essentially identical, personnel wise, to Auburn that year, except for that one wild card at QB who could do it all. Even without Newton, a Leon Berry drop late in the 4th kept us at that State level of satisfaction. Almost, but not quite.
2011 - Auburn 41, State 34
2011 was going to be the year. Preseason ranking, returning starters everywhere. More hype than the 2008 season, which was the last time we had any high expectations for our team. And in we strode to the loveliest village on the plains week two for a matchup with Auburn yet again.
But this year was going to be different, right? I mean, we had experience everywhere, and experts climbed over each other to go on tv and declare us their sexy upset pick of the week. We had everyone convinced that we could beat Auburn, well expect for Auburn itself. Then we decided to stay on the bus through the first quarter or so, and all of a sudden that "sure thing" found itself staring down the wrong end of a 14-0 deficit. Yet we battled back, we roared back actually. For about 15 minutes we looked exactly like every State fan thought we would. Efficient, high octane on offense. Opportunistic, smothering on defense. Yet as the fourth quarter wound down, we still trailed. And as the buzzer blew, there we sat. 6 inches short. Almost. It was a loss that was made painful by the days following full of replays and announcers saying: "they were that close."
But we were. We were close, but again again, we didn't win. And that's all that counts, the winning part. It doesn't matter who picks us, how much better or worse our players are than theirs, winning is all that matters. And in the last four seasons, we've been unable to do that against the Tigers from southeast Alabama.
It almost feels like the Auburn game has become a mental block for us - for fans, players and coaches alike. It's like the level you just can't beat on Mario as a kid, the extra mile you just can't finish on your daily run. It's right there in front of you, but you can't seize it. That's what victory against Auburn has been like for State the last four seasons: close, right there in front of our faces, but we are unable to grasp it.
But like so many fans rely on each season: "there's always next year." And next year is here, now, with as good of an opportunity as ever for State to end the streak. A home game against an opponent evenly matched with us in most categories. Another year where Auburn and State matchup in a game that's like staring in a mirror, at least in a broad sense, maybe not position for position.
Can State reach out and grab the opportunity in front of us? The fans sure hope so. The players sure seems ready to do so. And you know Coach Mullen and company will be ready to do so. Mullen, in addition to breaking the losing streak to Auburn, would also dismiss the "can't beat an SEC West team besides Ole Miss" monkey off of his back with a win Saturday.
So much at stake, and opportunity is ripe for the picking. So go pick it, Bulldogs.